Perry Watkins, Gay Veteran, Dies

TACOMA - Perry J. Watkins, an openly gay soldier who won a federal court ruling that allowed him to retire with full honors, has died from complications of AIDS. He was 48.

Mr. Watkins died Sunday, March 17, at his home in Tacoma, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) said yesterday.

A native of Missouri, Mr. Watkins was drafted into the Army in 1968 during the Vietnam War.

He was admitted into military service despite having declared his homosexuality. At the time, the Army discharged soldiers for sodomy and other specific acts but not for homosexuality itself.

In 1981, the Department of Defense declared homosexuality incompatible with military service, contending it undermined discipline, order and morale.

"I told the truth all these years that I'm homosexual," Mr. Watkins said in 1983.

In 1980, the Army had told Mr. Watkins it was revoking his security clearance. When he sued, the Army responded by moving to discharge him.

When Mr. Watkins sued to prevent his discharge, the Army said he would not be discharged but rather denied re-enlistment when his hitch ended in 1982.

Mr. Watkins, a staff sergeant, spent almost 10 years in federal court fighting the Army. In May 1989, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was unjust for the Army to enforce its anti-homosexual policy because Mr. Watkins acknowledged being gay when he was drafted and was allowed to re-enlist three times.

The court's ruling was narrowly focused and did not address the larger issue of bias.

"It is not a sweeping constitutional decision, but it is a first step that recognizes the value of the services of openly gay soldiers," Nan Hunter of the American Civil Liberties Union said at the time.

After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the Army's appeal, Mr. Watkins retired from the military with full honors and $135,000 in back pay, GLAAD said.

Mr. Watkins was featured in "Conduct Unbecoming," a book by the late Randy Shilts on the military's treatment of gays.